Bibliophilic Friday: Robots and Foundation


Good morning Everyone!

Robot from Print Shop Professional 2.0

I have been (sort of) participating in a WordPress Challenge called “Blogging 201,” which is designed to help bloggers improve their blog.  One of its suggestions is to have at least one weekly feature, so here’s mine:  Bibliophilic Friday.  All the feature really does is give me a chance to talk about some of the many, many books that I love.  I’m not entirely sure that you can be a writer if you don’t also love to read; at least I couldn’t.

We’re going to start with  Isaac Asimov’s Robot series and Foundation series, mostly because that is what I have been reading for the past few weeks.  Many of you are probably familiar with the movie “I, Robot”, which was (very) loosely based on Isaac Asimov’s work.  The movie, however, is nothing at all like the book.  While I did enjoy the movie, as in most cases, the book is much better.  The Isaac Asimov book, I, Robot, is basically a group of short stories tied together by the theme of an interview with robotics expert Susan Calvin that traces  the history of the positronic robots in Asimov’s imaginary future world from their beginnings towards the point where they are an integral part of the world.

One of my favorite stories in the book tells the trials and tribulations suffered by a two-man field team of robotics experts whose job is to test all of the new robots that are developed by the company.  In this particular story, they have been assigned to assemble and teach a new group of robots to handle an energy beam for earth; the energy beam has to be directed “just so”, or it will lose focus and end up frying major cities such as London or L.A..  The most important jobs the robots have is to keep the beam focused during radiation storms in space.  Well, our intrepid duo puts together a robot, who, with its positronic brain, deduces that it would be impossible for the men to have created it, given how much flimsier and less intelligent the men are then it.  Instead, the robot decides that its creator is the computer running the energy beam and that the job of all is to serve it.  It also deduces that the computer creator has given the men the delusion that they created the robots out of kindness and concern for their weakened condition.  The robot also converts all of the other more primitive robots in the energy station.  When one of the men gets frustrated and says something negative (ie., expletive deleted) about the energy beam computer, the men are locked out of the control room for blasphemy. The story goes forward from there.  It is really very funny!  The other stories in the book are equally entertaining, with just the right mix of humor, emotion, intellectual challenge and sometimes even pathos.

After re-reading #25 or so of  I, Robot, I decided to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.  It is considered one of the cornerstones of modern science fiction but I just never had gotten around to it.  I am delighted that I finally did!

The original three novels are the kind of books that you have to stay up until midnight reading just because you can’t wait to see what happens next.  There are two prequels (actually written after the first three novels) that are just as exciting.  In the Foundation books, a mathematician named Hari Seldon has developed a system of mathematics called psychohistory that is capable of predicting the future based upon the acts of billions of individuals.  At the time of the book, mankind is spread out over millions of worlds and part of a galactic empire that has existed for tens of thousands of years, but which is about to fall.  Seldon uses his branch of mathematics, psychohistory, to develop a plan that will reduce the period of  “the dark ages” that would result from the collapse of the Empire from 10,000 to 1000 years, and the first three books are about the plan during is first 400 or so years of existence.  The prequels are, of course, about Hari Seldon and how his psychohistory and the Foundation that supported it was developed.  (There are at least two other, later Foundation novels, but I haven’t read them yet so can’t recommend them.)

One fascinating development since Asimov wrote the Foundation novels is that something approaching psychohistory seems to be developing today.  There are people working on developing models that will use all of the data, chatter, discussions and decisions out on the Internet in order to predict future geopolitical events.  Google  and Bing already do some predicting on an individual basis – if you’ve ever noticed, while you’re writing a search query, they busily try to give you choices on what you are trying to ask based on what they predict your questions to be.

So, for you science fiction fans out there, what is your favorite Isaac Asimov science fiction book?  If you are a fan of some of his non-fiction work popularizing different sciences, let me know which one of those are your favorites!  I can’t wait to hear from you!

Have a great day!

Nancy

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